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Friday, 04 October 2013 03:29

Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays ALDS Preview

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While it is only the divisional series, it’s still extremely fitting that the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are set to meet up in the playoffs, isn’t it? After all these two division rivals met 19 times this season as they dueled for the number one spot in the American League East. But while the Red Sox did end up winning the season series, 12-7, this has the makings of a series that could need all five games to be decided. The Rays enter this series with their recently acquired “road warriors” tag held high. After taking care of business in Texas to break the wild card tie with the Rangers and then winning again in Cleveland on Wednesday night to advance themselves into the ALDS, the Rays haven’t seemed phased by playing away from their home turf. Winning 10 of their last 12, Tampa Bay’s recent hot streak has mostly been fueled by what’s been a huge part of their season -- timely pitching and timely hitting. While Tampa Bay wasn’t hitting the lights out in terms of runs(700) and RBI(670) during the regular season, their patient approach at the plate remains unchanged. Such a notion is evident upon seeing that the Rays lead the majors with 589 walks and just 1171 strike outs, which ranks 21st in the majors. The biggest concern for the Red Sox should be the Rays pitching staff. Unlike in the regular season, Boston won’t have the luxury of facing the Rays fourth and fifth starter Instead, they’ll be forced to face off against the Rays top 3 starters-- two of whom are David Price and Matt Moore. During the regular season Price started 5 games against Boston and finished with a 2-2 record allowing 9 earned runs in 32.2 innings pitched. Overall, this year Price has accounted for 4 of the 9 complete games by Rays starters this season. While his 3.33 ERA is not the lowest that Price has ever posted, his 1.09 WHIP, 1.3 BB/9 and 5.59 K/BB, are all career bests. However, some of those career accolade could be a bit skewed. Price sustained a tricep strain in July and subsequently spent 47 days on the disabled list, failing to reach 30 starts and 200 innings pitched for the first time in 4 years. Regardless of the missed time though, Price is still one of the games best pitchers and in a series that has the potential to go five games, Price isn’t a pitcher the Red Sox will want to see twice. Perhaps marginally less frightening than Price but still a serious speed bump for the Red Sox is Price’s fellow rotation mate Matt Moore. Like Price, Moore too has had an impressive season, going 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 27 starts. In regards to the ALDS, Moore faced the Red Sox twice during the regular season and found great success. In his first start on May 14th, Moore threw 6 innings of 3 hit, 3 run baseball, while walking 2 and striking out 8. However, it was Moore’s second start against Boston in late July that fans will shutter to remember. Moore silenced the Red Sox over 9 innings of work, allowing just two hits and one walk. Thus fans were introduced to just how dominate the 24 year old, major league sophomore can be. On the Red Sox side of the series, they enter the ALDS for the first time since 2009 and are seeking their first playoff win since 2008. Unlike their series counterpart, the Red Sox regular season success was based off their consistent, and at time explosive, offense and steady pitching. Lead by the likes of Mike Napoli and David Ortiz, the Red Sox offense finished the season among the top five in the MLB in average, hits, walks, and stolen bases. However, the Boston bats were second to none when it came to runs, RBI’s, doubles, and extra base hits. Like the Rays, the Red Sox offense has also found success in plate discipline by drawing 581 walks which ranks second in the majors behind their ALDS foe. Just like the Red Sox, the Rays biggest concern when facing the Boston should lie in the starting rotation. While the Red Sox rotation doesn’t have the gaudy numbers over the Rays like the Rays starters do over the Red Sox, Boston’s rotation has held its own, and is arguably a deeper group of arms. In terms of the Red Sox top 3 starters Boston’s manager John Farrell decided on a playoff rotation of Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz. Such a rotation offers 3 potential staff aces in three straight games. While Jon Lester does hold an ERA over 4.30 in 4 starts against the Rays this season, the fact that 9 of his last 10 starts of the season were between 6 and 8 innings with 3 or less earned runs, shouldn’t be overlooked. Similar to Lester, John Lackey had a tough time in 2 starts this year against Tampa, going 10 innings with an ERA over 8. However, both Lackey’s starts against the Rays came on the road where the right hander holds a 4.48 ERA. Since he is the Red Sox game two starter, Lackey will finally get an opportunity to face the Rays on his home mound where he holds a 2.47 ERA. Lastly, Clay Buchholz rounds out the Red Sox playoff rotation and despite having an injury plagued season, has found success against Tampa Bay. Although it was just two starts, Buchholz is 2-0 over 13 innings pitched allowing 5 hits and zero earned runs. To me an accurate preview of this series should be mainly about pitching. While the Red Sox tout one of the best offenses in baseball, the Rays contrast by rolling out two of the games best pitchers in as many games. Likewise, while the Rays aren’t a heavy hitting offense, their patient approach is something that the Red Sox top three can tame as evident by their season numbers. Playoff baseball is back in Boston. What a difference a year makes.